Seattle Travel Guide

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located in the U.S. state of Washington, about 108 miles (180 km) south of the American-Canadian border.

Seattle, named after Chief Seattle, has a total estimated metropolitan population of almost 3.8 million (2004). It is sometimes referred to as the "Rainy City," the "Gateway to Alaska," "Queen City" and "Jet City" (due to the heavy influence of Boeing). Its official nickname is "the Emerald City." Seattle is known as the home of grunge music, has a reputation for heavy coffee consumption, and was the site of the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization shut down by anti-globalization demonstrators. Seattle residents are known as Seattleites.

Major events in Seattle's history include the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which destroyed the central business district (but took no lives); the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, which is largely responsible for the current layout of the University of Washington campus; the Seattle General Strike of 1919, the first general strike in the country; the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, a World's Fair; the 1990 Goodwill Games; and the WTO Meeting of 1999, shut down by street protests.

In February 2001, a state of emergency was declared after the Nisqually Earthquake, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake, rocked the region. Damage was moderate, but served as a reminder that southwestern British Columbia and western Washington are under a constant threat of sustaining a great earthquake.

The Space Needle is Seattle's most recognizable landmark, featured in the logo of the television show Frasier and the backgrounds of the television series Grey's Anatomy, and dating from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, a World's Fair. Contrary to popular belief, the Space Needle is neither the tallest structure in Seattle, nor is it even in downtown. This is a result of the Space Needle often being photographed from Queen Anne, which gives the optical illusion leading to the misconception. The surrounding fairgrounds have been converted into the Seattle Center, which remains the site for many important civic and cultural events.

Other famous landmarks include the Smith Tower, Pike Place Market, the Fremont Troll, the Experience Music Project, the new Seattle Central Library, and the Bank of America Tower, which is the fourth tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River and the twelfth tallest in the nation. (On June 16, 2004, the 9/11 Commission reported that the original plan for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks included the Bank of America Tower as one of ten targeted buildings.)

In 1981, Seattle held a contest to come up with a new official nickname to replace "the Queen City," which it had been since 1869 and was also the nickname of Cincinnati, Toronto, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The winner, selected in 1982, was "the Emerald City." Submitted by Californian Sarah Sterling-Franklin, it referred to the lush surroundings of Seattle that were the result of frequent rain. Seattle has also been known in the past as the "Jet City" though this nickname, related to Boeing, was entirely unofficial.

Seattle's official flower has been the dahlia since 1913. Its official song has been "Seattle the Peerless City" since 1909. In 1942, its official slogan was "The City of Flowers"; 48 years later, in 1990, it was "The City of Goodwill," for the Goodwill Games held that year in Seattle.

As with almost every other city in western North America, transportation in Seattle is dominated by automobiles, although Seattle is just old enough that the city's layout reflects the age when railways and streetcars dominated. These older modes of transportation made for a relatively well-defined downtown and strong neighborhoods at the end of several former streetcar lines, most of them now bus lines. There is no subway, though a bus tunnel running roughly north-south through downtown is planned to be used by light rail beginning in 2009. There are a small number of commuter trains from Tacoma and Everett, and an extensive system of bus routes.

Seattle's streets are laid out in a cardinal-direction grid pattern, except in the central business district: early city leader Arthur Denny insisted on orienting out his plat relative to the shoreline rather than to true North, so streets meet at unusual angles where Denny's plat meets "Doc" Maynard's to the south and Carson Boren's to the north. This inconsistency creates frequent confusion for those unfamiliar to Seattle when they attempt to navigate the streets at the edges of the business district. Largely the result of Seattle's topography, only one street, one highway, and one freeway run uninterrupted entirely through the city.

Unlike most neighboring cities, water and electricity are provided by public city agencies. Privately owned utility companies serving Seattle are Puget Sound Energy (natural gas), Seattle Steam Company (steam), Qwest (landline telephone service), and Comcast (and to a lesser extent Millennium Digital Media) (cable television).

Five companies on the 2004 Fortune 500 list of the United States' largest companies, based on total revenue, are currently headquartered in Seattle: financial services company Washington Mutual (#103), insurance company Safeco Corporation (#267), clothing merchant Nordstrom (#286), Internet retailer (#342) and coffee chain Starbucks (#425).

Many Seattle residents work for companies based outside of Seattle proper. Airplane manufacturer Boeing (#21) was the largest company based in Seattle before its 2001 move to Chicago. Because several production facilities remain in the region, Boeing is still a major Seattle employer.

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